Vital information about Puppy socialisation and early training from Stan Rawlinson (Doglistener) UKs leading Dog Trainer and Behaviourist. Dog Training The Gentle Way
Puppy Socialisation and Basic Training
Age to Home a Pup: It is well documented and fully accepted that puppies should not leave their mother and siblings until they are 7/8 weeks old.
To take away a puppy before this time will mean that it has not been with its mother and siblings for enough time to learn many vital lessons.
It is actually illegal in the UK to sell a puppy under the age of eight weeks. I believe that needs amending. Science has moved on.
Critical Periods: We now understand far more of the needs, requirements and (1) Critical Periods of a young pup, than when this 8-week law was originally created
During this period, pups learn about social interaction, play, and inhibiting aggression. This starts to happen from the mother, the breeder and their litter-mates. Puppies who stay with their mother and littermates during this critical period are generally easier to train.
They are also more intelligent, quicker to pick up toilet training and generally more dog-friendly. This is also the period when Pups learn the most important lesson of their lives. They learn to accept discipline and control.
I personally believe the best time to rehome a pup is seven weeks. This is because from 8 to 10.5 weeks they are in a full-blown fear period, therefore, the journey and removal from their mother and siblings can be more traumatic during this critical fear period.
Early Toilet Training: The mother cleans up the nest by eating and drinking the pup’s faeces and urine. She licks around the genital and anus area to stimulate them to toilet
However after three and a half to four weeks when the pups can hear, see, smell and scamper around she then teaches them to toilet outside the nest using aggressive growls and threats. This, of course, is the trigger that allows us as owners to train the young dog to be clean in our own homes.
I often see dogs that were Puppy farmed where toilet training is a real problem. These horrific breeders are normally and lazy cannot be bothered to clean up after the pups once the mother has trained them to toilet outside. They then sell them on well before the important seven-week watershed.
Of course, those last couple of weeks with their mother and siblings have an enormous impact on the dogs future adult life. That is why you never ever buy a puppy if you cannot see the mother. whatever story the breeder may tell you.
Human Socialisation and Canine Socialisation: The most important time in your puppies life is 0 to 16 weeks.
This period includes the “Human Socialisation Period” 0 to 12 weeks.
The “Canine Socialisation Period” is from 0 to 16 weeks.
This is the time when you must introduce your puppy to as many things as possible.
Learning at this age is permanent so this is a perfect time to start training.
This is also the ideal time to introduce the puppy to things that will play an important part in his life.
From being born the puppy should be handled by a minimum of a hundred different people during the first 12 weeks.
That should start with the breeder who should handle the puppies from day one. The puppy should be handled gently and positively by different people especially children and older people. Without this humanisation period, puppies can become fearful of new people. Most aggression towards people is created at this time if the puppy isn’t fully socialised.
The canine socialisation period is the first sixteen weeks your puppy must be mixed with other puppies as well as older dogs. It is that boisterous play that puppies do that allows them to learn bite inhibition, body language and canine communication.
Pups do not learn vital body language and communication from adult dogs alone. Hence the need to mix them with other puppies outside their own litter. It is the lack of this vital interaction that is the main cause of aggression to other dogs. Miss this vital period and you cannot ever fully socialise your dogs with other dogs. The opportunity will have been lost.
Remember to get your new puppy used to leads and collars well before they are allowed to go out. I sell what I believe are the finest collars and leads for puppies and adult dogs. They are manufactured specifically for me and you cannot buy them anywhere else. Made from cushion web they are soft on the puppy and your hands. (2) Leads and Collars
Early Sound Therapy: You should go to strange places, meet other animals, road noises, trains, buses, and the hustle and bustle of the outdoors.
You can also introduce various sounds such as the vacuum cleaner, washing machine, and lawn mower, All these new sounds should be introduced in a positive, non-threatening way.
I have a (3) Sound CD with sounds of fireworks, traffic, gunshots, thunder etc that are great for getting a puppy used to these sounds before they are allowed out.
Whatever you do never comfort your puppy if it is startled, frightened, or nervous of any new sound or object.
This only acts as a reinforcer for the fear, making the situation far worse. The earlier you can get to classes the better the dog will be socialised. I meet many dogs and puppies that have major problems with various sounds. From Thunder to Traffic Noise, Fireworks and Gunshots.
If this happens to your dog it can become a debilitating affliction, and interferes with the dog’s life. Most problems are breeder or owner created. Or they are caused by (4) Early Neutering
When the dogs or puppies are startled or frightened we act as all humans do by comforting the dog. These actions only serve to reinforce the fear the dog is feeling.
In rare cases, this condition can be heredity if that is the case it is even more difficult to eradicate.
I have created an audio disc that covers all the main phobias such as thunder, sirens, fireworks, traffic noises, (including lorries and buses and air brakes) and gunshots. The best way is prevention, rather than trying to cure the problem afterwards.
If young pups are gently desensitised at a very early age, then they normally do not suffer these debilitating problems. Introduce these type of sounds very quietly and gently to your young puppy or adult dog, then gradually increase the volume over a period of days and weeks.
This will get the pup who may not be able to go out because of vaccinations to be introduced carefully to all the scary sounds they will encounter Then when they are finally allowed into the big wide World they will be less likely to be startled by these noises. Prevention is always better than cure.
The cost of this disc is only £8.00 plus P&P. I believe it is worth its weight in gold. All discs come with full instructions on how to introduce it to a puppy and how to use it on a dog already suffering from noise and traffic sensitivity.
Sound desensitisation has been used successfully for years to combat noise phobias in dogs. If your dog is afraid of sounds such as a thunderstorm, fireworks, gunshots, sirens, or car and traffic noise or you are preparing a puppy for the big outdoors, then click on the disc to buy, or for more information.
Dog Manners: Some people think it is funny to see puppies abusing older dogs.
Do not allow your puppy to constantly harass, leap on, and bite other dogs.
Do not allow over boisterous or very aggressive play.
If your pup is being overly aggressive at a young age then get help as soon as possible.
If you do not set boundaries and you may find that an adult dog may suddenly snap at your puppy. Read my article (5) The Alpha Myth
Though most dogs will allow quite a lot of leeway from puppies and their over-boisterous play.
You shouldn’t chastise the adult dog if it just gives a warning growl or an air snap with no bite or nip. if you allow your pup to continually pester after it has been warned, then the reprimand from some adult dog may become severe.
This could cause your pup to become fearful of other dogs, therefore defensive. Which may cause fear and aggression problems in later life. Fear is the single most behavioural reason for dogs biting. It has been suggested that over 85% of all dogs bites are fear based.
Hindsight: Hindsight is an exact science, foresight never is. Set your rules and stick by them, be consistent firm but fair: never let a puppy ignore your commands or do anything you wouldn’t want an adult dog to do. Aggression should also be controlled and checked when it happens. Having said that let me clear up a few misconceptions about what actually constitutes aggression.
If your dog growls at you while you are playing tug of war but not at any other time, then you don’t have an aggression problem. It’s a play issue. However, left unchecked it can lead to aggression in the future. I do not recommend any games of “tug” with your puppy whatsoever until the muscles in the jaw have matured. The teeth and jaws are very susceptible to misalignment and serious injury with pups under the age of 24 weeks
If your dog growls at you or your children while he is eating, putting on his lead or collar or when you give him a command and a stroke, then you may have an aggression problem. In this case, seek professional help. If the dog nips and bites when young (most do) This does not mean your pup is aggressive, this is what is called (7) Bite Inhibition and is an integral part in the young dogs learning curve, so it understands how to inhibit its bite. If this is the only form of aggression then the prognosis is good.
All you need to learn are some positive and negative reinforcement techniques to cure the problem. However, if the dog bites and it is passed the puppy stage, then you may have a much more serious problem which may require professional help.
Biting, for whatever reason, can be a difficult problem to correct especially in later life. Professionally handled it becomes considerably easier. Left unchecked, it is one of the most serious problems you will have to face with your dog!.
© Stan Rawlinson (Doglistener)
April 2008 regularly updated
Last updated June 2019
(1) Critical Periods
(3) Sound CD
(4) Early Neutering
(5) The Alpha Myth
(6) Puppy Classes
(7) Bite Inhibition